When we pulled up in front of the house, I threw up. I was feeling fine the entire trip there, but the moment I saw that house, my heart sank down to my stomach and I couldn’t breath. It had been 19 years since I’d first laid eyes on it, 11 years since I’d last. Two stories, with the same sky blue paint that at that point was fading, the same white rafters over the windows, the same wooden steps leading up to the same wooden porch, the same attic area at the top.
All of the years of therapy I’d gone through, all of the rationalizations I’d made, every excuse I’d made for what had happened 19 and then 11 years ago were all called into question. There’s no way I saw the exact same house in my hometown, then a year later in a different state while on vacation, then two years after that in my hometown yet again, only this time in an entirely different neighborhood, and a handful of other times in various pictures online and a news report when I was 13. Maybe houses that looked similar, but surely it wasn’t the same one. My wife Kimmy asked me what was wrong, but I could hardly speak. The memories came rushing back; the incidents, the police, the crying families, the confusion, the shame, the fear.
As I sat in the car with the door open, my legs hanging out the door, feet on the pavement, I turned around and looked at the house. The way the moon hit it, it was more uninviting than it had ever been. The garden that lined the front of the house was unkempt, the grass overgrown. It had never looked so disheveled. Kimmy put a hand on my shoulder, I could tell she was worried. I’ve never been the type to show fear, but I’m sure at that moment I looked more afraid than I’d ever been. She meekly asked again what was wrong, and after a few deep breaths, I was able to get three words out:
“That’s the house.”
It was just a few weeks before my ninth birthday. I lived in a nice neighborhood, only five blocks from school, and that year I’d been allowed to walk home. Two of my friends, Kayla and Mike, lived in my same area, so every day the three of us would make the walk together. I remember that day like it was today, like I’m experiencing what happened then, right now. It was a Thursday, the sun was shining, the lightest breeze blowing, the neighborhood quiet. There was a street, Walnut Drive, from which the numbered streets broke off, and on those numbered streets were where all the houses of the neighborhood stood.
On the other side of Walnut was a large undeveloped plot of land, just grass and the occasional tree. We’d often play in that lot, baseball, football, tag, anything our young minds could think to do. That Thursday, though, when we turned on to Walnut Drive, something was different. Instead of the usually completely empty lot, about 25 yards in, there was a house. The houses in our neighborhood were all nice, modest single family homes, and this one was no different, just out of place. There was no driveway or sidewalk leading up to it, just the house, surrounded on all sides by grass.
We kept walking, commenting on how odd it was that a house had been built there overnight. We wondered if perhaps we’d missed its construction, considering we hadn’t visited the field since the summer prior. We stopped in line with the house to take a good look. An octagonal window rested at the small protuberance on the top of the house, likely an attic, a light shining from inside. One of the white shutters on the window on the left banged lightly against the face of the house. The paint was a bright sky blue, and it looked as if it had been freshly done. The front door was a deep brown, and after a few moments it slowly opened, nothing but darkness within.
I still remember the feeling, the dread that washed over me like a sheet of rain. The sinking feeling in my stomach, the hairs standing up on my arms. I urged my friends to go, and we continued on our path. We’d only crossed a few sidewalk squares when a voice rang out.
“Kayla! Kayla! Come here honey!”
I’d heard the voice before. It was Kayla’s mom’s voice. We stopped walking, and at that moment, the dread amplified a hundredfold. We turned back towards the house.
“Kayla! Come here sweetie!”
Mike and I both looked at Kayla, our thoughts all in sync. What was Kayla’s mom doing in this house that seemingly wasn’t there one moment, then there the next?
“Come in sweetie, it’s okay. We want you to see our new house!”
Kayla looked at Mike, then at me. In my memory, I shook my head, but I can’t be sure if I actually did.
“Mom?” I can hear her voice now, all these years later. It was timid, it was confused, like she wasn’t aware that she was saying anything at all. She repeated herself then, a little more surety in her tone.
“Come here honey, we’re setting up your room! We need you to pick out what color you want the walls! We got a couple different shades of pink!”
To this day, I still remember the hesitation in her eyes. She looked at the house, and then to each of us again, and none of us could find words. I knew deep down that she shouldn’t go towards that house, so did Mike, part of me thinks that she knew too. But her mother’s voice was too much for her to deny, and she took a step towards her mother’s voice.
“No…” I remember I barely squeaked out the word. She looked back at me, and through the blanket of fear I had over me, I managed to get out one more. “Don’t.”
“Kayla, come on sweetheart, I wanna get this done today!” a male’s voice now came from the house, and I immediately recognized it as Kayla’s dad’s.
The door was wide open, nothing but darkness past it. It was her dad’s voice that made her decision for her. She turned back towards the house that last time and began walking towards it. She walked across the grass and up the steps to the porch as Mike and I stood silent.
She stopped at the door and looked into the house, into the darkness, then back at us. She was unsure. She was suspicious, curious. She was even afraid. But the voices of her parents overpowered the uncertainty I know she felt.
“Come on sweetie.” the voice of her mom said. “We’re upstairs! Come see your room!”
Kayla’s head snapped back towards the house at the sound of her mom’s voice. Then, she took one last look at us, and lifted one of her arms about halfway in a feeble attempt at a wave goodbye, before turning back to the house and walking in. The door slowly shut behind her. Mike and I stood there for what seemed like an eternity; we both had the worst feeling in the pits of our stomachs.
“See you guys at school!” Kayla’s voice suddenly rang out of from the house.
I still feel the same way now that I did then. What should I have done? I was nine years old. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.
That was the last time anyone ever saw Kayla.
Kimmy knows about my experiences with the house, no matter how real or imagined they are. Even now, I can’t be so sure that everything happened the way I remember it. Therapists and psychologists have suggested that I created the house in my mind to cope with certain events. Maybe they’re right. No, they’re not actually. I know what I saw that day when Kayla went missing, and I know what I saw the other days when the house showed up.
Nonetheless, Kimmy managed to calm me down. She reminded me that there are countless houses throughout every city, state, and country in the world. Rational thinking kicked in, and I was able to reason with myself that there’s no way the exact same house had been “following” me since I was eight years old. And even if it had been, what are the odds that my wife, whom I didn’t even know all those years ago, would be bequeathed that house?
It was about five months ago when Kimmy went out to get the mail and came back with a large envelope from an attorney’s office in Wisconsin. The envelope contained a copy of a will, the testator of which was a man she’d never heard of. A note from the attorney informed her that the man was a distant uncle of hers, on her father’s side. Bequeathed to Kimmy was a house, including everything inside it. There were no pictures of the house, and the lawyer’s letter made note of the fact that it was several hours outside of the city in which he was located. An address was provided, along with directions to the house.
As Kimmy no longer had any relatives on her father’s side (that she knew of), she called her mom to ask if she’d ever heard of the man who’d left her the house. Her mom said that while she couldn’t recall ever hearing the name, she couldn’t be sure that she absolutely hadn’t either.
Because of our daughter’s school schedule, we weren’t able to make the trip from our Northern California home to Wisconsin just then. We resolved to make the trip when Katie’s spring break began, our goal being to survey the house and decide what work might need to be done in order to sell it quickly. Kimmy called about a month before our trip and had the electricity and water turned back on in preparation for our arrival.
We got out of the car, and our seven-year-old daughter Katie was excited about the prospect of having a new house. Though I was calm, I was still apprehensive about going into the house, even more so about my wife and daughter. Kimmy assured me again that there was nothing to be worried about, and I began taking all of our bags out of the car. Kimmy, speaking quietly so as to not frighten Katie, insisted on going into the house first, knowing how anxious I was to do so myself, and didn’t give me an option otherwise.
I walked a few steps behind Kimmy, and once we reached the bottom of the steps that led to the porch I’d seen Kayla walk up and never come back down, I stopped both myself and Katie. Kimmy walked up the stairs, each one creaking louder than the last. She reached the door and slid the key in the knob before looking back to us; all I saw in that moment was Kayla looking back across the grass field at me and Mike. Kimmy pushed open the door, and that familiar darkness created a frame around her before swallowing her as she walked in.
My heart pounded, my palms began sweating, and my breaths became short. It seemed like a lifetime that she was in there while Katie and I stood at the bottom of the porch.
“Come on guys! Come in!”